Comparative Perspectives on the Rehabilitation of Ex-Slaves and Former Child Soldiers with Special Reference to Sudan

By Fegley, Randall | African Studies Quarterly, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Comparative Perspectives on the Rehabilitation of Ex-Slaves and Former Child Soldiers with Special Reference to Sudan


Fegley, Randall, African Studies Quarterly


Abstract: Despite the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, reconstruction of southern Sudan remains a daunting task, which limited resources and unlimited suspicions may derail or delay. Among myriad issues facing agencies and their client communities are the problems of assisting children traumatized by the brutal legacies of Sudan's first half century of independence. Given the length of Sudan's conflicts, few have experienced a "normal" childhood. Furthermore, the psychological and social aspects of rehabilitation have only been examined recently. This article tabulates the successes and failures of governmental and non-governmental programs rehabilitating former slaves, many of whom were or are children, and child soldiers, many of whom are now adults. It compares activities in Sudan to programs in other parts of Africa (Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Uganda) and beyond (Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates). Applying these comparisons in the absence of long-term assessments, the author endeavors to determine pitfalls to be avoided and best practices to be followed.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Most ancient forms of forced servitude sought to absorb conquered peoples and avoid their reintegration into previous cultures. But the rise of profit-driven mass slavery in Imperial Rome, Ottoman Turkey, and later the Americas, raised new issues, as slaveholders had little desire to integrate chattels into their societies. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade created an easily distinguishable class to clarify socio-economic divisions. The removal of Africans from their homelands and the disruption of their cultural patterns without absorption into their masters' societies generated complex problems reflected in contemporary forms of slavery elsewhere. As defined in international conventions, all forms of slavery entail loss of control over one's labor and movement for non-criminal reasons to another without pay, usually involving ownership for permanent or unclear terms of service. [1]

In the two centuries following the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, legal emancipation and economic assistance, particularly the provision of land, jobs and other resources to allow the development of new livelihoods, were assumed to be all that was necessary for ex-slaves to adjust to their new status. These assumptions guided the workings of America's post-Civil War Freedmen's Bureau and the establishment of freed slave communities in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Fernando Po. However, problems were immediately evident. The American formula of "forty acres and a mule" proved unrealistic. Such approaches are still evident in Mauritania's El Hor movement which has campaigned for the enforcement of anti-slavery laws, land reform, and the formation of agricultural cooperatives since the 1970s. [2]

Over the past two hundred years, great attention has been placed on children's issues. Exactly what the numbers and roles of children were in early slavery and slave trading are sketchy. As anti-slavery crusades and anti-child labor campaigns emerged in the early 19th century, western societies also began to make distinctions between childhood and adulthood to an extent unknown in any other time or place. Children came to be perceived as requiring protection from exploitative labor practices, far beyond slavery. However, by the 21st century various forms of profit-driven bondage enslaved an estimated 27 million people worldwide, ranging from West African chocolate slaves to Thai sex slaves to Central Asian carpet slaves. [3] All of these practices involve the exploitation of children.

Following World War II, the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration's reintegration of Nazi Germany's 7 million slave laborers exposed the limits of focusing only on the legal and economic status of former slaves. The American civil rights movement emphasized slavery's profound long-term effects. …

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